Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nerd Bread: Role-playing Games

Nerd Bread: There are a lot of things that go into making a nerd. Nerd bread describes things that are absolutely necessary to qualify for the title. The corollary, nerd butter, deepens the nerd experience to something much more profound, much like butter does to bread.

Roleplaying. Games.

Hell yes.

If you're a nerd, you know what I'm talking about. If you're an uber-nerd, like me, you might be salivating a bit right now. I'm salivating as I'm writing this, and I have no clue what's coming next.

A lot of 'nerd bread' is shameful to society at large. Role-playing games, to them, are not a hobby, but a punch-line. Screw 'em. Role-playing games are awesome. They're just threatened by the fact that a nerd can have fun without shutting off their brain, throwing back J├Ągerbombs and junk-punching their drunk buddies. Not that I can't see the appeal of spending an inebriated night with friends doing so. I might incorporate that as a mini-wager on the next war-game night--loser gets junk-punched. That should add some tension to diplomatic relations in Twilight Imperium...

Where was I?

Oh yes, role-playing games. Some of the uninitiated might be wondering what a role-playing game(RPG for the rest of us) actually is. An RPG is an imaginative type of game dedicated to replicating your favorite moments from television shows, movies, and books, where the players use some sort of abstraction to make the story challenging and fun to craft at the same time. That's it, at it's core.

What, you were expecting something kitschy? ROLL INTELLIGENCE! 12 after modifiers? OH NO, FAIL! Just like the train job all over again, hehehe!

That more what you were expecting, jock?

Actually, there's a lot of that, too. But that's not the core. The core of a good RPG is making the kind of story you always wanted to read or watch, and inflicting that on your friends, who are trying to do likewise. To keep things fair, each player controls one character, over whom they have almost total control. That's their player character(PC), and it's the player's job to flesh out that PC as much as possible. Although, to be fair, that's usually not that much--vicarious violence through a fictitious avatar is distracting, after all.

All the other story elements are controlled by one of the players, who calls himself the game-master(GM), because nerds want to have position titles, too. (A jock strap shouldn't be a requisite for position titles and peculiar exhuberance for arbitrary goals, after all.) The GM is usually the most jaded and imaginitively well-endowed of the players--he's also usually the most anal, detail-oriented one in charge of remembering the lion's share of the rules. I'm usually the GM amongst my friends. The GM runs the bad guys and other non-player characters(NPCs) the PCs interact with, but he is not necessarily opposed to the PCs' goals. In fact, the GM has the same goal as the players: to make a fun, interesting story. Sometimes an interesting story arises when the PCs succeed against terrific odds. Sometimes an interesting story arises when the PCs fail and die terrible deaths. Most RPGs fall somewhere in between.

So, that explains what an RPG is, but why are they so awesome?
  1. You get to kill stuff in exotic locales. This is the biggest single draw to most RPG players, though it isn't a prerequisite to the experience. For most of us, though, there's tremendous satisfaction to be had from pitting yourself against violent, extreme circumstances and prevailing. And then you can rub it in the GM's face, too.
  2. You get a sense of progress. A lot of hobbies exist to occupy kids and adults of all ages, but few of them give you the sense of progress an RPG does. When's the last time your football league made an alliance with another league after a sudden victory? Some RPGs can last for years, during which time the players might become as attached to the game as any soap opera aficionado.
  3. You exercise your mind. RPGs are nerd bread for a reason. Constantly thinking about what a fictitious character would do in a hypothetical situation is the core of role-playing, and so it has elements of philosophy, critical thinking, and improvisational acting.
  4. You escape your concerns. The best way to eliminate worry is to replace it. And being worried about whether Laanor the farmboy is going to recover from his wounds is a lot more entertaining than wondering whether things are going to get better at work.
So, if you're curious about RPGs now, embrace the nerdery and get into it. And if you call yourself a nerd and yet scoff at RPGs, get over yourself and eat your nerd bread.

*fist-shakes* Eat it!

Nerd bread articles are all about the essentials of being a nerd. Feel free to offer suggestions of what you consider essential to the nerd identity.

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